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Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom review

 Review: September 2013  
 

Rating: 3 stars

In a nutshell: The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom is really suited only to those people who use their compact digital camera more than their phone and don't mind carrying around a single bulky device that's expensive but with only mid-range performance as a phone.

Today's best buy: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom LTE S ... from Amazon (£0)



 

Review

The Galaxy S4 Zoom sets out to answer the question: can a mobile phone with an optical zoom ever be a good replacement for two devices? The answer's no, in case you were wondering.

Bulky design

Look at the S4 Zoom from the front and it looks like a normal phone. But that illusion is instantly shattered the moment you pick it up. It's very heavy, at 208g weighing nearly twice as much as the iPhone 5 and being twice as thick. It is in fact, a brick. That rules it out as an option for most people, so keep reading only if you're in the habit of carrying your compact digital camera with you and want a phone that will double as camera and phone.

Once we've got over the size, there's nothing wrong with the design of this camera/phone hybrid. The rear camera features an optical zoom, which protrudes quite a bit from the back of the phone, especially when in use. A grip to the right of the lens helps you hold the device firmly. It's not necessarily the most convenient shape for a camera-like device, but as a compromise it works well enough.

The screen is a 4.3 inch Super AMOLED display, which is a fair size, though not as big as the original Galaxy S4, but disappointingly it has a rather low pixel count. With just 540 x 960 pixels, it can't even display 720p HD images, let alone the 1080p of the original S4. For a phone that's meant to spend half of its life taking photos, that's a mighty let down.

Optical zoom

This device is half phone and half camera, so let's do the camera half next. In terms of specs, the S4 Zoom is pretty unique at the present time. No other mainstream camera phone currently offers an optical zoom.

Inevitably the camera takes very good quality pictures when compared with most camera phones. As well as the ability to zoom optically instead of digitally (with no loss in quality therefore), the camera is equipped with a 16 megapixel BSI sensor and even has a xenon flash. The zoom is motorised and provides a focal range of 24-240 mm.

If you use your camera a lot (and if not, why are you buying this device?) you'll find that taking shots isn't as quick and easy as a dedicated camera. That's because you have to unlock the phone and then wait for the camera app to fire up before you can use it.

There are many more features available than in a normal camera phone, and the combination of touchscreen and physical controls makes the camera feel like a modern digital camera rather than just a camera phone. However, you'll keep coming up against compromises that remind you this isn't really a dedicated camera.

There's no doubting the camera's ability to deliver shots on a par with an entry-level dedicated camera. But many top-of-the-range camera phones can make similar claims. In a detailed review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Digital Versus praised its handling, advanced settings and fast autofocus, but criticised its slow start-up, lens quality and image quality.

Mid-range specs

The S4 Zoom is good as a camera, although certainly not perfect. But as a phone? Putting aside the size and weight of the thing (it's replacing two devices, so we've got over that issue), we can't ignore the fact that this is a mid-range device dressed up and priced as a high-end one.

We've already discussed the low-res screen. Next on our hit list is the underpowered dual-core processor, followed by the rather small built-in memory of just 8GB. We'll store our photos on a microSD card, but 8GB doesn't leave us much room for apps once the system has eaten half of that. We'll also mention that 4G is missing, which may or may not concern you.

Compromises, compromises, ...

Whether you're a keen photographer or just keen on smartphones, there are a lot of compromises to swallow here. For us, there are too many. It doesn't help that the device is expensive, yet acts like a mid-range camera and mid-range phone. We'd rather have paid more and got something really exceptional.

Having said that, if you're currently carrying around a compact digital camera and a mid-range phone and would like to carry just one, then the S4 Zoom could meet your needs.

For everyone else, there are much better smartphones available at this price, and many of them take pretty good photos too. Obvious alternatives are the Nokia Lumia 925 and the Sony Xperia Z.


Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom features include:

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